'Bridges to Success' career skills fair offers more than just employment

By Jason ShepherdMarch 29, 2024

FORT BELVOIR, Va. – It would be easy to confuse the Bridges to Success event as just another job fair in Fairfax County, with row after row of employers passing out brochures and sharing open positions at their companies. Attendees would quickly learn that the event on March 6 was much more.

In all, almost 200 high school students, veterans, military spouses, and other in-demand job hunters filed through the National Museum of the U.S. Army to attend a career skills fair that featured college and trade schools, military recruiters, education specialists, and resource organizations, as well as employers. The Bridges to Success event was co-hosted by Fort Belvoir and Fairfax County.

“This event is about providing upskilling opportunities for veterans, their spouses, their children and for our high schoolers who will be graduating shortly and is a testament to the strong partnership between U.S. Army Garrison Fort Belvoir and Fairfax County,” said Dr. John Moeller, deputy to the Fort Belvoir garrison commander.

Staff Sgt. Taya Gaither, right, with U.S. Army Recruiting Command, speaks to high school students about educational and career opportunities during Bridges to Success at the National Museum of the U.S. Army, March 6.  The event offered education and skills resources to military-connected students, families and transitioning service members.
Staff Sgt. Taya Gaither, right, with U.S. Army Recruiting Command, speaks to high school students about educational and career opportunities during Bridges to Success at the National Museum of the U.S. Army, March 6. The event offered education and skills resources to military-connected students, families and transitioning service members. (Photo Credit: Paul Lara) VIEW ORIGINAL

During a previous engagement, Fairfax County Chairman Jeffrey McKay shared that there are over 130,000 unfilled jobs in Fairfax County, and filling these jobs are “of vital importance.” Col. Joseph Messina, Fort Belvoir garrison commander, said at a community leaders’ forum the previous week that the collaboration between the post and Fairfax County to address economic development, quality of life, and tech-led development must be a priority.

“We need to join our communities in profound and innovative ways to make sure we’re sharing assets and resources,” he added. “This event is the kind of collaboration we need to help us all improve one of the most remarkable regions in the country.”

Lisa Youngblood Hall, chief experience and engagement officer for Fairfax County Public Schools, spoke to the assembled crowd during the opening ceremony and offered her advice to those high school students walking through the booths.

“There are so many possibilities … in this room,” she said.  “Internships, college, military career, whatever it is you want to do, make sure you're following the path that is right for you.”

Bus after bus from eight Fairfax County high schools rolled up to the Museum throughout the day, with staggered arrivals to give everyone ample time to speak with exhibitors. One West Springfield junior said he has post-graduation plans but was looking for a summer opportunity before his senior year.

“I really wanted to check out some intern opportunities for the summer and just to see what they have to offer because I'm planning to enter the military,” he said. “I want to enter either as a tanker in the Army or an infantry officer in the Marines.”

Taylor Palesky, an education specialist at Fort Belvoir’s Barton Education Center, briefed numerous students during the event, sharing information on the educational benefits awarded to Service members and their Families.

“(Our goal) is to communicate with Soldiers about the Army education benefits available to them for school including tuition and credentialing assistance,” Palesky said.  “For Family members, we have some scholarships that we can tell them about.  Some Soldiers might choose to transfer their GI Bill benefits to their spouse or children, so we help them with that, too.”

Staff Sgt. Taya Gaither, an Army recruiter in Springfield, Va., talked with students about the benefits of joining the military, including work experience and college tuition.

“There are so many ways that the military can help people they just don't know,” she said.  “We're here to educate them on that. Whether it's part-time service or full-time service, it is definitely a steppingstone for everyone that they can use to get their foot in the door and get to where they want to be.”

Dan Storck, Fairfax County Supervisor for Mount Vernon District, said he was delighted at the turnout compared to last year.

“This year’s event has gotten bigger and better because the number of students attending has mushroomed,” Storck said. “(Fairfax County) is booming, thriving, and growing. It's thanks to the folks here today who are helping to make this happen.”